Aveilut: A Time to Mourn

The Fellowship  |  February 7, 2019

People gathered at Rabbi Eckstein funeral, learn about Jewish mourning traditions

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die . . . a time to mourn and a time to dance . . . ”   —Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

One of the most difficult things a person can ever experience is the death of a loved one. When the unthinkable happens, family members in the Jewish tradition began a journey as avelim (mourners), following a script of rituals and traditions prescribed by their ancient forefathers and pass down from generation to generation.

In Hebrew, this time after a loved one passes is known as aveilut, which means “mourning.” Children who have lost a parent officially remain an avel, a mourner, for a period of one year. It is a year filled with ups and downs, twists and turns, as family members mourn and celebrate the life of the loved one.

The Jewish approach to death and mourning is based on three fundamental beliefs. First, Jews believe that the soul lives on eternally. Second, they believe that the body, though it returns to the earth, is considered holy, as it served to carry the soul through its journey on earth. And third, the Jewish faith believes that there will be a time of resurrection when the soul will return to its body and live in this world once again.

Accordingly, Judaism encourages the family to mourn the passing of loved ones – but not to mourn excessively. In Deuteronomy 14:1-2, Scripture reads: “You are the children of the Lord your God. Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead, for you are a people holy to the Lord your God.” This verse, pregnant with meaning, directs mourners not to engage in ancient practices like cutting oneself in a show of mourning or harming themselves in any way. That would be taking our grief too far. Rather, because the loved one is a child of God, Jews believe that they will see their loved one once again.

At the same time, Scripture also teaches that there is “a time to mourn.” We must mourn, out of respect for the departed and as healing for our own souls. As Paul instructed the early church in Rome, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).

The Jewish way of mourning provides a biblical framework for honoring the deceased, allowing mourners a healthy space for grieving, and helps mourners move on in their lives with clarity, comfort, and meaning. The rules, laws, and regulations, set into place thousands of years ago, encourage true healing to take place in the right way, at the right time.

To learn more about the Jewish mourning traditions, please download a complimentary copy of a teaching that Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein wrote as he traveled his own mourning journey at the passing of his father, Rabbi Simon Eckstein.